The Americans Season 1, Episode 8 ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’
Directed by Bill Johnson
Written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FX
‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ is an opportunity for The Americans to breathe a little as it sets up its smaller plot arcs to close out the season. While doing so, it struggles to maintain some sense of urgency with what is going on right now, but even Cold War spies deserve a light week once in awhile, right?
If there’s any negatives to point out about the episode, it’s the Jennings marriage debate of the week, which doesn’t pair all that well with their mindfuck of a mission from the KGB: kill the guy we sent to kill everybody. There’s been a lot of hints through the season that the leadership in Russia is anything but efficient – and sending a killer to take out 14 American scientists without a reliable communications system is a big, flashing neon sign to those shortcomings. But even a shitty assignment can’t stop the Jennings duo, however: when they’re not debating whether their marriage is real or not, they hunt down the assassin, whose penchant for explosives turns out to be the most tragic of flaws in the end.
Outside of that mission, much of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ seemed concerned with backtracking the Jennings relationship, to the point where it’s a few steps behind where it was in the pilot. I wish we would’ve had a little more than 10 minutes of the Jennings trying to be a real couple before Granny blows it all to shit (the theme of the episode is definitely explosions, be they sexual, literal, or metaphorical) by informing Elizabeth of Phillip’s lies. Phillip doesn’t even have time to squirm about his little rendezvous, which feels like a card The Americans played a little early to get everything in place for whatever is next.
Elsewhere, there’s a whole lot of sex: prostitutes banging FBI agents, Clark finally sealing the deal with Martha (whose last boyfriend was a jerk, and apparently was bald-headed Dan), and Nina having some nice safe house sex with Stan (whose boss thinks he probably shouldn’t fuck informants in public moving forward). At times, it feels like the writers knew they the episode was light on material and drama, and said “ok, let’s fill it in with the most amount of nudity and gore we can get”, with full on sexplotation scenes, Game of Thrones style.
There are plenty of important tidbits to parse from the episode, despite not a lot happening until the end: Nina gets a promotion, and her and Martha are both starting to pay off dividends professionally for Phillip and Stan (respectively). But there are hints this is going to end soon: a jealous, curious Dan is onto Martha’s behavior, tailing her home after work to close the episode. And Phillip struggles to have sex with her after his argument with Elizabeth, distracted by the necklace Elizabeth offered for him to give to her.
Although it’s an episode that seemingly doesn’t have a lot going on, ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ has a distinct purpose story-wise, content to keep the plot light, but not wasting any time preparing everything for the next bombshell to hit. Three FBI agents and a scientist are dead, just as Russian leadership is crumbling alongside the important ‘arrangement’ of the Jennings family – in other words, shit is getting ever so closer to the fan.
– Nina talks straight with Stan: “you cannot lie to everyone. Too dangerous.”
– Martha calls Clark ‘honey’, which is not something he wanted to hear. Turns out his informant might be a wee bit clingy.
– Stan doesn’t like spicy food, but hot damn, if that horseradish doesn’t just liven up a meatloaf.